- Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia

Robert's story

A father’s fight

It’s 11am on a Monday and Robert is receiving treatment for leukaemia. Hospital staff come and go as he talks about how he ended up here. “I felt unwell for about a month. One day, I lost feeling in my hands and feet, and I felt dizzy. I rang my boss and he asked if I was well enough to finish the day, and I said yes. But towards the end of the day… he was like, ‘Nah, go to the doctor.’”

Rob went to his doctor and had blood tests done. By 7pm, he received a call from an oncologist, who urged him to go to the ED as soon as possible. “I was freaking out, and so I went to the ED, and the doctors were like, ‘You have leukaemia,’ and I was like, ‘Huh? What is that?’ They said it was cancer. I was pretty shocked.”

“My sister-in-law had the same type of cancer as me – acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). And my old lady had breast cancer, so when I heard ‘cancer’, I just thought it was something to do with lumps in your body.”

“But blood cancer isn’t the type of cancer you can just chop out.”

Rob’s wife was distraught. And his kids didn’t really understand. “They’re all under six, so they thought – oh, Dad’s just sick and he needs medicine.”

Thankfully, after Rob’s second round of chemo, he was told he was in remission. Despite this good news, things are still hard. He still needs to finish two more rounds of chemotherapy, and treatment can feel incredibly isolating. “It feels like fatherhood’s been taken from me,” he says. “All I want to do is be a dad. But I’m in here for four or five weeks at a time.”

“My wife is so strong. She’s looking after five kids by herself. And even though she lives an hour from the hospital, she still finds time to visit me. That’s two hours of driving, plus wrangling the kids… People tell me that being here is helping everyone. But right now, I can’t see or feel that. I just feel lazy and useless.”

Rob is interrupted by the arrival of a haematology nurse. She asks him questions about a cut on his lip, his skin and his temperature. Then she asks him how he’s doing mentally. “Not good. I’m missing my kids. But I’ve got two of their birthdays this week, so I’ll get to see them.”

“The support here is awesome. But I’m a bit of a hard-headed person. I don’t like pity,” Rob laughs. “And I’m not good at asking for help.”

That’s why when Rob was visited by Deborah from LBC, he only wanted for his family to be supported. His wife was given petrol vouchers to aid the long drives to and from the hospital.

Putting his needs first has been a challenge for Rob. “For the last 30 years of my life, I’ve been working and helping other people. This is the first time I’ve had to look after myself. I’m not used to it, and I don’t like it,” Rob laughs.

“This whole experience has just made me want to help people more.”

Fast Facts: Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

  • There are approximately 140 diagnoses of AML in NZ each year
  • AML is an acute leukaemia that develops very quickly and requires immediate treatment
  • AML is a cancer of the myeloid blood cells.